WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, ahead in polls and fund-raising and seeking to position herself as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is doing what candidates in her circumstances like to do: avoiding risky moves, sidestepping clashes with rivals from her own party and trying to run simultaneously as a primary and general-election candidate.
The strategy reflects a growing confidence among Mrs. Clinton’s aides that she has so far weathered the intense personal scrutiny her candidacy has attracted. But it carries risks for any candidate — and particularly for one named Clinton, as she has found in recent days.
In trying to appeal both to the Democrats’ liberal base and to a more centrist general-election audience, Mrs. Clinton, like her husband before her, risks feeding into the assessment of critics that she is more about political calculation than about conviction. The point has been driven home these past few days in her efforts to present herself as the antiwar hawk: vowing to an audience of Democrats to end the war in Iraq while voting in Congress for a harder line against Iran, a move that some Democrats argue could lead to another war.
That vote led an Iowa Democrat to challenge her heatedly on Sunday in an exchange that ended with her apologizing for accusing him of being a plant for a rival campaign. And it was mocked Monday by a statement from the Republican National Committee that pointedly described it as Mrs. Clinton’s “Iran calculation,” and condemned by one Democratic opponent, former Senator John Edwards, who suggested that Mrs. Clinton was giving President Bush license to wage war in Iran.
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to another Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, said: “She has straddled a lot of issues, but I think this one was a miscalculation born of a misplaced comfort of where she is in the process. She got caught looking ahead to a general election.”
Beyond the matter of trying to please two groups of voters at once, Mrs. Clinton’s adoption of a front-runner’s posture has made her an object of attacks not only by fellow Democrats but also by Republicans, who see in her an easy target, and by editorial writers, now judging her as her party’s likely presidential nominee.
And her campaign’s apparent moves to limit her appearances in uncontrolled environments like news conferences and meetings with voters run counter to the political culture of Iowa and New Hampshire, even though such tactics are common for a candidate in the lead.
Mrs. Clinton’s advisers dispute the notion that she is engaged in an exercise of triangulation, to use the word that came to describe her husband’s politics.
“She’s been running a primary campaign that’s also been doing well in the general,” said Mark Penn, her senior campaign strategist. “The positions she took on the issues was that it was right to end the Iraq war and also right to be strong against terrorism. That has been the key to a primary campaign that happens to be successful in the general.”
Her aides also deny that she is running a take-no-chances campaign, pointing to the health plan she offered last month as an example.
Still, as more polls come in suggesting that her position is strengthening — an Iowa poll published in The Des Moines Register on Sunday showed her taking the lead away from Mr. Edwards among likely caucusgoers — the contrast between her campaign and those of her rivals has become undeniable. More...